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A study on wages, ages, and Newcastle United’s transfer strategy

An exploration of who fits and who does not the NUFC transfer-target model

Switzerland v Italy - UEFA Under-21 EURO 2023 Photo by Flaviu Buboi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so it might help to see a visual of what has come across as the Newcastle Leadership Team’s apparent ‘decision tree’ and approval criteria.

If you are following the transfer window very closely and the below information is captured correctly, then none of this should really be news or a surprise bit by bit. Nevertheless, it might either be helpful to see it all in one place or the visual will help us all rate the likelihood of a rumor being reasonable.

First, regarding a ‘Decision Tree’, there are apparently a series of binary questions. If the answer to any question is ‘no’, the player is no longer a candidate for recruitment. New information may be discovered along the way in the process that could change the answer from ‘yes’ to ‘no’.

These questions are:

1. Does the player’s skill level make the team better?

2. Does the player have the correct character to blend with the squad?

3. Is a deal reasonable and financially possible within our current restrictions based on FFP

4. Does the player want to come to Newcastle?

Question #1 is relatively straightforward and Howe has mentioned it multiple times. With the extra games on the schedule due to earning Champions League, team rotation will have to occur. Therefore, it seems rational that the team’s leadership will have mapped out a desired amount of rotation and how deep into the depth chart that would impact. These are the positions a recruit would have to serve as an upgrade on. It would be great to get a player that becomes the best at that position and everyone else slots down a step but that may not always be financially possible for every recruit.

As an example, the depth chart for center-back has Botman and Schar starting. Behind them in some order is Burn (Targett would consequently start on the left), Lascelles, and Dummett. Bringing in somebody of the same level as Botman was last year may or may not yet work out this year. That said, it is believable that the harsh reality is that Lascelles is not at a skill level that the staff would prefer to have in a player scheduled to start with any regularity. They need/want a CB better than Lascelles and preferably on par with at least Schar. Dummett should rarely—if ever—see the pitch.

Regarding Question #2, the recruiting team surely has some measuring criteria that is more detailed and less subjective than can be suggested here. Generally, it appears they want players who are committed to the team more than themselves and are hungry to win. Surely there is more, but talent alone is not enough.

Question #3 has been discussed a lot elsewhere and has been brought up by Howe and the owners multiple times although there is still a huge element of secrecy to it. We’ll have to trust they get this one correct. It is reasonable to suspect that at the quality of the player we are looking for, many deals may fall apart at this question.

Question #4 speaks for itself. The player has to be willing to agree to a deal to come to the Premier League in general and Newcastle in particular. Some players simply choose where to play on some criteria that rules out England or Newcastle. It is what it is.

Once these are all answered in the affirmative, then you come to the below picture/graph where the X and Y axis represents the weekly wage bill and the player’s age. In the graph, the behavior witnessed by Newcastle’s past recruitment suggests that even if the player gets four ‘yes’ answers, we quit recruitment if they fall in the ‘no go’ section where either wages are too high, the player is in or past their prime, or a mixture of both.

The team has stated they won’t bring somebody in who upsets the wage structure. If a single player had to serve as the litmus test here, that player would be Bruno.

It has not been stated plainly and publicly but the actions of the club suggest that Bruno has commitments from the club as to his singular importance and their long-term commitment to him personally if he will reciprocate with his allegiance. He has spoken numerous times about having no intent to leave and how his young son was born a Geordie. Rumors were that when Tonali signed, Bruno’s wages were renegotiated at about that same time. As long as this commitment is intact, he won’t be going anywhere and no one here will make more than him... or at least not materially more than him.

The team is also looking for young players or ‘value’ purchases for older players. Trippier serves as a great example of a value player in that all four questions were answered with a ‘yes’ and he did not come at the cost of upsetting the wage structure of the club.

Of course, young and up-and-coming players would not earn big wages (not on arrival, at least) and so there is more likelihood their new wages at Newcastle would fit the structure. Also, from a tactics standpoint-point, younger players tend to be healthier, heal faster, and have longer endurance for Newcastle’s current high-pressing, push-forward game strategy. There is just more risk in bringing in an older player even if he ticks all of the other boxes.

As a wild example, Kylian Mbappe’s wages would completely blow the chart up. The deal probably does not get a yes to Q3 anyways and maybe not Q4 either.

James Maddison is a more realistic option to analyze. He may have ruled himself out after implying a ‘no’ answer to Q4 by preferring to play in London, sealing the (no) deal for NUFC. Had he been willing to become a Magpie, £40m (the reported transfer fee) does not seem too far out of bounds for Newcastle if we were determined and committed to the club. We do not know exactly how those payments were structured between Tottenham and Leicester so there is a chance any deal was derailed at Q3. But at 26 years old and with wages above £160/week, he for sure broke the acceptable structure. Age was less the issue than his demanded wage bill. The reported £180k/wk, (around £1m annually) was never going to work. Newcastle were not going to pay more and he was not interested in playing for less.

Looking at Kieran Tierney and Federico Chiesa, they both fall right around the line for acceptability. Is Chiesa willing to take slightly less in weekly wages since he has been out injured? Is Newcastle’s interest in Tierney a smokescreen to unlock some other deal for a younger and cheaper but less proven player... or does the club really rate Tierney?

We may learn more about the club’s thresholds from these answers.

Dominik Szoboszlai is not on the chart because there is not enough data shared yet and his move to Liverpool is nothing but assured. He reportedly admires Klopp so maybe Q4 was a ‘no’. Maybe the release clause was more cash upfront than NUFC wanted to part with for his perceived value so Q3 was a ‘no’, too.

The other strategy during the transfer window is for us to just wait until we hear a deal is being completed. But if you are tracking rumors as many of us do, hopefully, this helps assess and organize them as to which are crazy and which might have merit.